Monthly Archives: January 2017

Socrates: ancient Humanist?

Footnotes to Plato

MNR-Socrate Socrates, Roman National Museum, photo by the Author

As part of my ongoing occasional series aiming at bringing some of my own technical papers to the attention of a wider public (after all, what the hell is the point of doing scholarship if it only benefits other scholars?), below I reprint a paper I recently published in The Human Prospect. It inquires on the possibility of interpreting Socrates as a proto-Humanist of sorts, and it therefore includes a discussion of Humanism as a philosophy of life, as well its likely stemming from the ancient Greco-Roman tradition of virtue ethics (via the mediation of the Renaissance Humanists, which were informed by, and yet were reacting against, medieval Christianity).

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Calling deep sea species ‘monsters’ may harm their conservation

The Conversation

Carla Litchfield, University of South Australia

Fans of the movie Finding Nemo may remember the terrifying fish that scares Dory (a blue tang) and Marlin (a clown fish) at the bottom of a trench.

But in reality this “monster”, a black seadevil, is only about 9 cm long, which would make it about a third of the size of Dory and potentially smaller than Marlin or Nemo.

In 2014, researchers at Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute began studying a single black sea devil. It was caught and moved to a special darkroom laboratory designed to simulate its dark and cold natural habitat.

While this misconception or inaccuracy may seem harmless, it could pose problems for future conservation efforts, as people are more likely to support conservation of cute rather than creepy-looking animals.

While the angler fish is easily turned into a scary monster, the similar-sized tiny Pac-Man looking octopus is cute and popular with the public.

Deep sea commercial fishing nothing to celebrate

From 2000-2010, scientists described about 1,200 new species in the Census of Marine Life Program. While this figure may seem astounding, a further 5,000 individual dead creatures are in specimen jars, waiting to be described. The scientific process of describing new species is slow.

Specimens must be methodically collected, identified, and then the identity of new deep-water species must be confirmed.

People have always had a fascination for unusual creatures that they may never see. Many exotic land animals can be seen in zoos around the world, but few deep sea species are on display in aquaria. In the meantime, people on social media are hungry for images of strange and exotic animals of the sea.

As a result, a Russian fisherman working on deep sea commercial trawlers last year gained huge numbers of social media followers after posting photos and videos of some of the deep sea creatures caught on his ship, with some even stuffed by craftsmen on board.

 

Presumably, many of these specimens are bycatch, accidentally caught in nets trawling for other species popular with consumers. Sometimes bycatch, which includes marine mammals, is thrown back into the sea but it may end up on consumer plates.

If images are posted on social media by laypeople in a way that appears sensational and even heartless, and without any accurate information about the animals, then there is no resulting respect for these sea creatures or educational value. Simply viewing these creatures as freaks, ignores the importance of their role in keeping our oceans healthy.

A tripod fish deep below the Atlantic Ocean. NOAA Ocean Exploration & Research/Flickr, CC BY-SA

Deep in danger

Most people will never spend time on a trawler fishing in deep oceans, but marine conservation and management policy depends on all of us being aware of the risks that human activities pose to marine ecosystems, such as deep water fishing, off shore mining and pollution.

If we call unusual deep sea animals monsters or demons or freaks, then we may harm their conservation as people are unlikely to connect with them or care about saving them.

On the other hand, their rarity clearly makes them popular on social media sites. For other species, this has resulted in increases in illegal trafficking for exotic pets, and aquariums. Deep sea species may potentially become illegally sourced taxidermy curiosities or food. Humans may end up eating these animals of the deep to extinction before their species are even known to science.

Rhinochimaera. NOAA Ocean Exploration & Research/Flickr, CC BY-SA

Saving our ‘blue heart’

We still have so much to learn about deep marine ecosystems and their inhabitants, which have special adaptations for living in these typically cold and dark waters. With new submarines and technology, scientists are able to explore the ocean more easily.

The deepest part of any ocean is the Challenger Deep valley in the Mariana Trench, part of the Pacific Ocean, which is about 11,000 metres deep. By comparison, Mount Everest is about 8,550 metres tall.

The cold water of the North Atlantic, down to depths of about 1,800m, is home to the Greenland Shark, which can live for as long as 400 years!

A new species of beaked whale has also been discovered recently. It is smaller and darker than other beaked whales, perhaps because it forages for deep sea fish and giant squid at depths of up to 3,000m below sea level.

The public’s perceptions are often based on how ‘cute’ an animal is. NOAA Ocean Exploration & Research/Flickr, CC BY-SA

Every habitat on earth is interconnected, and whatever we as humans do on the ground, or in the oceans has an impact on marine ecosystems. Removing deep sea predators and prey, and disturbing deep sea habitats, will change marine ecosystems in ways that we do not yet understand.

Some experts have compared the rapid global spread of unsustainable fishing technologies and practices to a pathological disease outbreak. Oceans are sometimes called the lifeblood of our planet, while rainforests are its lungs.

In reality, about 80% of our oxygen is produced by microorganisms in the oceans. This makes our oceans both the lungs and lifeblood of our planet. In fact, oceans are the blue heart of our planet and we must all try harder to save them.

The ConversationCarla Litchfield, Senior Lecturer, School of Psychology, Social Work and Social Policy, University of South Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.

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Bill Maher indicts the liberal thought-and-language police for Democratic losses

Why Evolution Is True

This segment of Bill Maher’s “Real Time”, which was published yesterday, blames Democratic election losses on the party’s having gone “from the party that protects people to the party that protects feelings.” Well, I’m not so sure I agree, but it’s a funny piece nonetheless.

h/t: Barry

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Trump’s arrival means it’s time for Australia to review our relationship – and perhaps learn to say ‘no’

The Conversation

Tony Walker, La Trobe University

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is discovering the political cliché “change the government, change the country” might have bigger implications for Australia’s relationship with the United States than anticipated.

We might re-engineer the cliché to read “change the government, change its foreign policy”, and thus how America manages its relationships with friends and foes alike.

If it has not already dawned on Turnbull and his foreign policy advisers then it should have: a new American administration like no other in recent memory will require a rethink in how Australia calibrates its relations with Washington.

Not since the Gough Whitlam’s Labor government of 1972-75 has such a potentially awkward relationship existed between Australia and its principal ally, or to use another description, custodial power.

Whitlam parted company with his predecessors in his testy interactions with the Richard Nixon White House. Whitlam felt under no obligation to espouse a “pro-American” perspective on matters relating to the war in Indo-China in particular.

Many Australians found this refreshing.

While it was inevitable that a moment would arise when Australian and US interests would find themselves out of kilter, it has perhaps come more quickly than anticipated, driven by the arrival in the White House of a man untethered from principles that have guided American foreign policy for generations.

In Trump’s Inauguration speech there was one passage that should have given Turnbull and his advisers pause, even if these words might be dismissed as a rhetorical flourish:

We assembled here today are issuing anew decree to be heard in every city, in every foreign capital, and in every hall of power. From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land, from this day forward, it’s going to be only American first, America first.

He added:

Protection will lead to greater prosperity and strength.

The latter observation could hardly have been more antagonistic to the free trade principles and practice on which Australian prosperity rests, or for that matter be regarded as anything more than an affront to America’s own history.

In 1930, Congressmen, Senator Reed Smoot and Representative Willis C. Hawley sponsored legislation that raised punitive tariffs on some 900 imports, and in the process added poison to the well of slowing global trade, as The Economist put it.

Smoot and Hawley did not cause the Great Depression or add significantly to it, but the legislation represented a populist response to political anxiety.

Nearly a century later, an American president appears to hold the view that an “America first” approach – or a form of isolationism – will serve his own country’s economy well and those of its friends.

This view, even if you accept that the trade liberalisation pendulum has swung too far, is not sustainable if economic growth globally is to be nurtured.

Otherwise, disaster beckons, including a global entrenchment that will serve no-one’s interests, including America’s.

Trump’s stroke-of-a-pen end to America’s involvements in the liberalising Trade Pacific Partnership gave expression to his antagonism towards trade deals generally and spelled a pause in American leadership of a laborious process of opening markets and reducing trade barriers.

From the establishment of the General Agreement on Tariffs Trade, to the formation of the World Trade Organisation, to progress towards open markets under the Uruguay Round – alongside a plethora of bilateral trade deals – an era of liberalising trade has underpinned global prosperity.

So, the question becomes: how should the Turnbull government respond to these new circumstances in a way that serves Australia’s interests, and in an environment in which the world is in disarray? And it is likely to become more so if the early stages of an idiosyncratic Trump administration is any guide.

Policymakers need to think outside the narrow confines of what has been regarded as “America first” policy postures that have dictated Australia’s foreign policy choices, to consider what might be regarded as a less dependent relationship on our security guarantor.

None of this is an argument to weaken Australia’s commitment to the ANZUS alliance, nor our alignment with what we have always regarded as America’s better angels. But the time has come for a reassessment.

Trump’s ascendancy to power reminds us there is no such thing as permanent alliances, simply permanent interests.

Australia is not obliged to make a choice between its security in the form of its treaty arrangements with the US and its commercial interests, namely with China. But it does need to move to a position where it gives itself more flexibility in addressing its security and other challenges.

In other words, arguments for greater self-reliance – including defence preparedness – grow by the day.

How Turnbull achieves such a shift will prove a test of his diplomatic and leadership skills, and indeed his understanding of our country’s history. After relying on great and powerful friends for our security, we may be entering a new and distinct phase.

Whatever judgements might be made about the likely trajectory of a Trump administration, early days suggest that what he said on the campaign trail will guide his actions in office.

So when he talks about a form of isolationism summed up by the phrase “America First” he must be taken at his word, until demonstrated otherwise.

This poses obvious challenges for Australian policy. Do we gravitate towards the sort of world defined by Trump – with its risks of a return to a 1930’s isolationism or perhaps a form of 19th century mercantilism – or do we assert our own separation from such a worldview?

Are we seeing the end of “pax Americana”, in which the US proved to be the indispensable cornerstone of global security in the rebuilding of Europe, the containment of the Soviet Union, and a security presence in Asia post the Korean war that has enabled an extraordinary economic transformation in our own region to our advantage?

Turnbull needs to ask himself whether it is in Australia’s national interest for institutions like the United Nations, World Trade Organisation, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation to be weakened.

Is it in Australia’s interests for there to be a confrontation between the US and China on trade, or security in the South China Sea?

Or a return to a ground war in the Middle East that would demand a larger commitment from Australia with unknowable consequences?

Lessons might have been learned from an earlier disastrous intervention.

Finally, Turnbull should resist pressure from his the right wing of his party, salivating over the arrival of an authoritarian in the White House.

Turnbull was derided over his initial response to Trump’s decision to abandon the TPP, in which he said China may wish to fill the gap as if, reflexively, he needed to fall in line with Washington.

While the TPP may be dead, Turnbull and his ministers shouldn’t be blamed for trying to keep alive an idea that would have provided a basis for a liberalising trade and investment zone in the Asia-Pacific.

Contrary to the views of its critics, the TPP was always about more than simply a trade liberalisation mechanism. It was also aimed at providing a framework for further action in counterpoint to China’s growing dominance.

Finally, Turnbull might consider the example of former Canadian Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chretien, who politely declined when he came under pressure to join George W. Bush’s cavalry in the invasion of Iraq.

Chretien, as leader of a country that shelters under a US security umbrella and is a fellow NATO member, said “no”, or “non” in his native Quebecois.

Last time we checked the sky had not fallen in for Canada.

The ConversationTony Walker, Adjunct Professor, School of Communications, La Trobe University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.

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The Intricacies of Democracy in Ancient Greece

Daniel Zalec

Historian Paul Cartledge contextualises and assesses democracy in the ancient Greek world as a multifaceted phenomenon, expanding on the themes of his 2016 book, Democracy: A Life. Dr. Cartledge also explains the importance of this legacy to the modern western world. This Hellenic Society event was held at The Hellenic Centre in London; and audience questions follow.

Lecture date: October 19, 2016.
Alternative lecture: Gresham College (Sep. 27, 2016).

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Entire team of senior managers resigns at the U.S. State Department

Why Evolution Is True

UPDATE: I’m following this situation as some of those who resigned might have been asked to leave, and in cases of senior officials the distinction may be nebulous given that they might prepare letters of resignation as part of the normal transition between administrations. All I can say is that I took the Post’s report as accurate (they’re the Post!), and that report was echoed by several other reputable sources. Meanwhile, the Post also reports that the chief of the US Border Patrol resigned:

The chief of the U.S. Border Patrol has resigned after only six months on the job, one day after President Trump announced plans to ratchet up immigration enforcement and build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, officials said Thursday.

It was not immediately clear why Mark Morgan — a career FBI official who was the first outsider to lead the agency responsible for securing the…

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Rogue Twitter accounts purportedly created by disaffected science agencies

Why Evolution Is True

After Tr*mp ordered various science-related Federal agencies to undergo a social media blackout a few days ago (and forced the “rogue” Badlands National Park account, which was tweeting out climate-change announcements, to withdraw its facts), various other rogue accounts have sprung up.  Now many or most of these may be bogus, not having anything to do with disaffected employees of those agencies, but I suspect at least some are real; if I find out more information I’ll post it here. The San Diego Union-Tribune counted 24, but the list compiled by Alice Stollmeyer, below, has 47.

Take these with a grain of salt. They may be hoaxes, but some may be real expressions of revolt by federal agencies.

And if you’re a scientist, remember that planning is in the works for a Scientists’ March on Washington, a science-oriented equivalent to the recent Women’s March. The data hasn’t yet been set.

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Milestones

I’m pleased to report that this blog ‘The Logical Place’ now has over 1000 followers, in various modes. Since starting in June 2013, it has received over 101,000 visitors and 148,000 views.

The blog now contains 1,197 posts, the most popular one being Fallacies of composition and division, followed by  The Zero-Sum Fallacy.

If you find the information on this blog useful, you might like to consider supporting us.

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Parrot pie and possum curry – how colonial Australians embraced native food

The Conversation

Blake Singley, Australian National University

The relationship between European settlers and native Australian foodstuffs during the 19th century was a complex one. While the taste for native ingredients waxed and waned for the first century of European settlement, there’s ample evidence to demonstrate that local ingredients were no strangers to colonials’ kitchens or pots.

British settlers needed to engage with the edible flora and fauna of the continent almost immediately upon arrival. The journals of First Fleet officers record not only their reliance on native food, but the relish with which they enjoyed it. For example, First Fleet surgeon George Worgan noted in his diary a feast held to celebrate the King’s birthday:

We sat down to a very good Entertainment, considering how far we are from Leaden-Hall Market, it consisted of Mutton, Pork, Ducks, Fowls, Fish, Kanguroo, Sallads, Pies & preserved Fruits.


S. T. Gill’s sketch of a ‘Butcher’s Shamble’ from 1869.
State Library of Victoria

But despite the colonists’ reliance on native ingredients to supplement their diet, they were regarded with deep suspicion. Cooks – mainly women – relied on traditional British methods to transform these raw materials into something that they deemed culturally recognisable and appropriate.

Journals and other written accounts record these efforts. Kathleen Kirkland, a migrant who settled in Australia in the 19th century, wrote about the kangaroo soup, bush turkey and parrot pie she prepared for New Year’s Day 1841. She also praised the wild mushrooms from which she made a ketchup.

A contemporary of Kirkland, Louisa Meredith, describes eating kangaroo, wattle bird and echidna, although admitting that her tastes were not shared by all. But at least enough agreed with her that Phillis Clark, who was born in Tasmania in 1836, could compile a manuscript cookbook of recipes copied from other books and newspaper clippings. This personal collection contained a number of dishes featuring native ingredients like kangaroo, as well as detailed instructions for butchering the animal.

Kangaroo steamers

These examples notwithstanding, the settlers went to considerable trouble to maintain British food habits, in order to maintain a British identity.

Mrs Allan Macpherson, who settled in northern New South Wales in 1856, recounted that a dish of rock wallaby had a “very close resemblance to the hare” specially when cooked the same way and eaten with currant jelly. This application of European cooking techniques made it impossible to “distinguish them apart”.


Frontispiece of The English and Australian cookery book : cookery for the many, as well as for the upper ten thousand, by an Australian aristologist. National Library of Victoria

Suspicion extended to traditional Aboriginal food practices such as using cooking vessels made from from bark or tree gnarls and wrapping food in leaves. They were disdained entirely, even if the ingredients used by Indigenous Australians were not.

It is in this manner that native ingredients appear in Australia’s first cookbook, The English and Australian Cookery Book, written by Tasmanian politician Edward Abbott and published in 1864.

In a section dedicated to game meats, Abbott featured recipes for kangaroo, emu, wombat and other native fauna. There were a number of recipes for “kangaroo steamer”, a dish that had been popular for at least almost half a century across the colonies.

Kangaroo steamer was a colonial adaptation of the traditional British dish of jugged hare and involved slowly cooking kangaroo meat with bacon and other seasonings. The dish would be cooked in a glass jar or earthenware vessel and sealed so it could be stored for an extended period.

Engaging with Indigenous food methods

One of the few cookbook writers to fully engage with Aboriginal people and their food methods was Wilhelmina Rawson. Born in Sydney, Rawson spent long portions of her life in northern and central Queensland.


State Library of NSW

It was here that she began gathering the recipes that would appear in her first cookbook, Mrs Lance Rawson’s cookery book and household hints, first published in 1878.

This book holds the distinction of being the first cookbook written by a woman in Australia. From the outset, Rawson noted the abundance of edible native ingredients that her readers could rely on such as kangaroos, bush turkeys and bandicoots. She urged her readers not to think of these foods as ingredients of last resort but rather, to consider them as a “sumptuous repast” not far from their kitchen.

Rawson’s adventurous palate extended beyond fauna and included such things as wild mushrooms and the young shoots of the rough leaved, fig tree which had been pointed out to her by Aboriginal informants.

In her 1895 book The Antipodean Cookery Book, Rawson noted that “I am beholden to the blacks for nearly all my knowledge of the edible ground game” and that “whatever the blacks eat the whites may safely try”.

Rawson’s relationship with Aboriginal people was complex and nuanced. Demonstrating an understanding of the dispossession of land occurring in Queensland at the time, she wrote sympathetically of

The lessons white men should learn from the blacks before the work of extermination which is so rapidly going on has swept all the blacks who possess this wonderful bush lore off the face of the earth.

Here she was voicing common sentiments about the predicted demise of the Aboriginal race. Rawson’s long periods of living in remote rural locations throughout Queensland had most likely placed her in closer contact with Aboriginal people than cookbook writers who lived in towns or cities.

British settlers, especially those living away from metropolitan centres, consumed native ingredients both out of choice and out of necessity for most of the 19th century.

However, this consumption was mediated by deeply held cultural prejudices. The transformation of native ingredients into recognisable British dishes can be regarded as part of the broader colonising process taking place.

The ConversationBlake Singley, Curator, Australian National University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.

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Your resource: the definitive collection of vaccines-don’t-cause autism papers

Why Evolution Is True

Peter Hotez is co-editor-in-chief of the journal PLOS NTD (Neglected Tropical Diseases), is an expert in vaccination. Here are his qualifications:

Prof. Peter Hotez MD PhD is professor of pediatrics and molecular virology and microbiology at Baylor College of Medicine, where is also Texas Children’s Hospital Endowed Chair in Tropical Pediatrics, and Dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine. He is also the President of the Sabin Vaccine Institute and director of the Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development.

Those credentials are given at the bottom of his latest post on the PLOS Blog Speaking of Medicine, a post called “The ‘Why Vaccines Don’t Cause Autism’ Papers.” This is a site worth bookmarking.

He has another qualification to pronounce on the issue of vaccination and autism:

But I’m also a father of four children, including my adult daughter Rachel who has autism and other mental…

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